Thursday, October 06, 2005

100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed: Review

Personal Book Review of "100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed."
Finished on 10-6-05

First Some Info:
This is Melissa P.'s first novel and was published (not written) when she was seventeen. Over 1,000,000 copies were sold. The book is considered an International Bestseller. In an interview with The Bookseller (UK) Melissa P. stated that she "discovered [herself] through sex." The book is categorized as a fictionalized memoir...leaving you to guess what is real and what is elaboration.

To start, I have two main questions:
--Who are the million + people that bought this book? ( I am honestly curious what the demographics of the people are who bought this book. What is the main selling point? It can't possibly be that people think it is good. The only reason I can understand is the mere scandel of it as well as the turn on for many. A book about a young teen having sex with men of varying ages, being raped, being the slut of up to 5 men at a time, is unfortunately going to be very appealing to many.

--Who did the translation? Does it do her writing justice?
I feel that the writing has been greatly harmed by the translation. If I spoke Italian, I could make the decision myself. Unfortunately I do not. Even if the writing style was improved, the substance is still heavily lacking.

All in all, I think that the idea of the book has potential, but that it failed miserably. The descriptions of sex and of her own feelings were lacking authenticity as well as originality. I felt like the descriptive words were repetitive (which isn’t surprising because it is difficult to come up with different words for the male “member” etc.). I am thoroughly sick of reading the words “my sex.” I was constantly aware of the fact that the author was a teen, and not an experienced writer.

There was a moment toward the end of the book, when I felt something somewhat interesting happening. Then I realized I was inserting meaning, where there wasn’t any. This was the moment, where I saw the potential of the story. It was a brief, brief, moment. The potential that I saw (which again is NOT implied in the book at all and doesn't seem to be in the author’s head whatsoever) is how many women and young girls are often more comfortable with being objects, than feeling like women or girls in a loving relationship. That we are so used to being judged and depicted and desired according to our physical characteristics, and our ability to project a much so that what should feel good and normal (love and respect) is often what we must grow accustomed to as we age. This idea, could have easily been developed alongside the narrative and would have added immensely to the book. Instead we have affair after affair ending with a very dissappointing and unrealistic relationship that develops faster than ice melts in the sun. The innocence of Melissa came through slightly, but was, in the end, still underdeveloped.

I suppose that is it. The book doesn’t deserve any awards...but will remain (I am sure) on the top 10 list for men who are closeted pedophiles.


Renegade Eye said...

I loved reading Camille Paglia's debates with Andrea Dworkin, over how feminists should feel toward pornography.

I was always uncomfortable with antipornography feminists. I hated the Puritanism, and disregard for civil liberties. Feminists believed all porno was rape.

I think feminists should produce pornography. To some being a sex worker, is a feminist statement, of being pro consentual sex between adults. We need a feminism open to art and sex in all their dark, unconsoling mysteries.

I mentioned the feminist pornography, after reading your book review. You were talking in asides saying that you could write that book better. I know you can.

I'll shut up now, before I put my foot in my mouth more.

Anonymous said...

Below is the NY Times Book Review piece on the book. I guess I feel that the most frustrating part of reading the book was the tiresome naivete of the narrator, seemingly wanting to be both dark and sensual as well as poppy and sunshine-y. The recklessness and sloppiness with which she writes are indicative not only of her age but of her inexperience. I felt at the end of the book she could not make sense of her situation - nor can her readers as a result - and therefore rushed an unbelieveable relationship as the book lumbered toward climax.

'100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed': Oops! I Did It Again

Published: November 7, 2004

ELISSA P. has been a naughty little girl. She begged a boorish boy with strawberry-tasting lips to take her virginity; on her sweet 16th she allowed an ''arrogant angel'' and his four devil friends to enter her ''Secret''; she played Lolita to her math tutor and dominatrix to a bad married man. And that's just a partial list of the varieties of sexual experience that unfold over the course of two years in one teenager's life.

''100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed,'' written by the author when she was 16, is an autobiographical novel of sexual initiation in a small Sicilian city. It is composed in diary form -- a teen scream disguised as an erotic fairy tale. The book has sold some 850,000 copies in Italy and is being published in 24 languages. (The P is for Panarello; she revealed her last name when she turned 18, after working out a compromise with her mortified parents.)

The narrator is also named Melissa, and her ravenous desire to taste sex in the extreme puts her in the hands of cads (the angels, kings and princes of this tale), whose breathy grunts she often mistakes for adoration. The movement between fable and teenage confession -- all that loneliness, angst and longing -- makes for an odd tension in a story that otherwise might be considered conventional erotica, full of cliche and tease, stiletto-heeled lovers and spankers. One day she's hard-core, the next Cinderella.

Panarello could be the literary kid sister to Catherine Millet, whose memoir, ''The Sexual Life of Catherine M.,'' burned up the French best-seller list a few years ago. But while Millet, writing in the past tense, reveled in the lusty, if predictable, orgies in which she took part, celebrating each haphazard grope, Panarello, writing frequently in a here-and-now present tense, comes across as oddly detached -- a ''sex toy with an expiration date,'' as she puts it. Her writing about sex has a cool, dispassionate quality: ''We were fitted together like a key in a lock, like a farmer's spade thrust into rich, luxuriant soil. . . . My desire was making him sluggish, as if I were a cool, fizzy spumante that packed the necessary punch to exalt his senses and send him high as a kite.''

This young writer is no Colette, whose tales of sexual experimentation are little laboratories of psychological realism. Bored, consumed by her image in the mirror, desperate to find her prince, Panarello passes over her violent encounters with a kind of haughty simplicity: ''Who cares if it was right or wrong? The important thing is that we felt good.'' The shame she feels at being invaded by beastly lovers alternates with pride in her skill at seducing them. To purge her bad feelings, she ritually brushes her hair 100 times before bed. Princesses do this, her mother tells her, though the act is recast in Panarello's mind as punishment.

Books written by teenagers and billed as the next big thing often suffer from grand ambition hampered by immature writing. A first-timer's literary allusions infiltrate the prose -- Dante, ''The Bell Jar,'' Dante again. Cringe-inducing euphemisms abound here: lance, stake, scepter, Secret, River Lethe, erupting volcano. (Perhaps these words are more euphonious in Italian than in Lawrence Venuti's translation.)

A slapdash conclusion levitates the novel into the realm of the unbelievable (hint: it includes a prince of sorts). The peek into Melissa's liaisons holds an interest more prurient than literary. While the book has immediacy, its lack of insight -- something one hopes for in the whispered intimacy of a diary -- makes it predictable and even tiresome. If one trusts the reports that women hit their sexual peak in their 30's, Panarello has time to live as deeply as she desires -- and to sharpen her writing skills in the off hours. As for her life so far: ''Story of O'' it ain't, not yet.

LENORA TODARO was formerly a senior editor at The Voice Literary Supplement.

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